What is a Democratic School?

A democratic school is one in which students and staff are equal. They have an equal say in the running of the school and the school rules or agreements. A democratic school is generally speaking a learning community. A place that supports and encourages learning without controlling it.

Each democratic school will have developed their own particular way of working together as a community. Within the community most schools have self-directed and independent learning as one of the key goals. While the particulars of each school varies, generally they all follow a process where there are regular school meetings at which everything is discussed. From what classes to have at school, proposing new activities and projects, to new rules or the abolition of old rules.

Students and staff work together through these meetings and a mentorship programme to ensure the safety of all people at the school and co-create a lively and engaging school for everyone. Here is a short video about Democratic School Education.

There is a powerful body of evidence showing the benefits of student voice and democracy. Please visit our Library section to learn more. 

the History of Democratic Schools

Schools which are founded upon the principles of democracy and self-directed education have been around for over one hundred years. Summerhill in the UK is one of the oldest and most well-known democratic schools. Established in 1921 by A.S. Neill it paved the way for many other democratic schools to grow.

The Sudbury Valley School in America established in 1969 and has gone from strength to strength, its founder Daniel Greenberg has written many books around its approach to education. Peter Gray a Neurobiologist was so inspired by Sudbury Valley School after his son attended it that he refocused his research on to the origins and function of play and how humans learn. His research is presented in Free to Learn and is inspiring in its scope.

It is thought that there are over 100 democratic schools in Europe and hundreds more around the world. This is not a new idea or concept, it is slowly growing and becoming better understood as research in the area improves.  Our understanding of child development has grown significantly as has our knowledge on mental health for young people and respecting their human rights becomes further embedded in our societies.

In Ireland alone, we now have three established Democratic Schools with several more in the start-up process, including our school. Wicklow Democratic School was founded in 2016, and was Ireland’s first democratic school for self-directed education. Not long after, in 2018, Sligo Sudbury School was founded and in 2020, West Cork Sudbury School opened its doors.

Videos about Democratic Education

Overview of Democratic Education

From a Child's Perspective...

A look at Sligo Sudbury School

A "Typical Day" at a Sudbury School

Do Schools Treat Children as Humans?

The Self-Organising Child

The Decline of Play

"Teaching" Kids Democracy and Freedom

Teacher Liberation

Schools as Communitites

Glimpse into Sudbury School Day-to-Day Life

Age-Mixing at School